Schools, health experts concerned about bigger measles outbreak after new case at Auckland school

A new case of measles in Auckland has health experts extremely concerned about a potential outbreak due to the country's low immunisation rates.

Staff and students have been warned to stay away from Albany Senior High School after a student attended for two days while infectious. 

Albany Senior High School has shut down for the rest of the week while health officials work to understand how the student became infected.

"Certainly, it is locally acquired, and that is of concern," said Dr William Rainger from Te Whatu Ora.

The school has a modern learning environment which includes five open-plan halls.

The student was in all of them while infectious, interacting with a number of year levels and classes.

Nine hundred pupils and 100 staff are considered at risk, and officials are rapidly assessing who has been immunised against the virus.

"If you're in a room, and you're un-immunised, and someone there has measles - you're going to get it off them," said Māori paediatrician Dr Owen Sinclair.

That's because it's an extremely infectious virus.

To put it in perspective, the R number (reproductive number) of the first COVID-19 variant was between 2.0 and 3.0. That meant a positive case was likely to infect two or three others.

The R number for measles is 18 - exponentially more infectious than any COVID-19 variant.

Dr Sinclair told Newshub it can cause serious complications too.

"You can get pneumonia - and that's what kills the vast majority of people who get it. The other is swelling of the brain - encephalitis."

Of extreme concern are the immunisation rates in Aotearoa, because as Dr Sinclair said they've had the steepest drop-off they've seen since records began.

Associate Professor Dianne Sika-Paotonu, an immunologist, said the alarming drop in immunisations is due to COVID-19.

"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, child vaccination rates dropped, so they are currently much lower than what they might be," she told Newshub.

In 2019, there was a major measles outbreak around the motu, with more than 2000 cases, and about 800 of those were hospitalised.

Tony Coughlan, principal at Royal Oak Intermediate, said schools are monitoring the current situation closely.

"For most principals, this is certainly on their radar," he said, adding they're "just concerned about our kids' wellbeing and health."

Symptoms to look out for include fever, coughs, a runny nose, sore and watery eyes, followed by a blotchy rash.

You're considered immune if:

  • You've had two MMR vaccine doses after 12 months of age
  • You've had measles before, or
  • You were born before 1969.

Health experts are urging Kiwis to check with their doctors if they're unsure of their vaccination status.